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Frank Murphy

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Nice portrait of Murphy, signed as Associate Justice

William Francis Murphy, 1890–1949. Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States, 1940–1949.  9” x 11½” embossed panel photograph signed and inscribed, To King V. Hostick / with the best wishes of / Frank Murphy.

Although this bust portrait shows Murphy in a business suit, the photograph was taken after he took the bench as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.  A penciled note on the back, presumably with the photographer’s image number, shows that the photo was taken March 20, 1940, some six weeks after Murphy was sworn in as a Justice.  Another note reads “Frank Murphy / Supreme Court.”  One must speculate, of course, but perhaps Murphy wanted to dress in a suit for this portrait because Harris & Ewing took a series of formal and candid images of him in his robe in February 1940.

Murphy was President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s choice to succeed Justice Pierce Butler, who had died in office.  He was commissioned January 18, 1940, and sworn in as a Justice on February 5, 1940. 

A strong liberal, Murphy served in a number of positions before his appointment to the Supreme Court.  He was the Mayor of Detroit before serving as the last Governor General of the Philippine Islands and the first High Commissioner of the Philippines.  In 1936, he was elected Governor of Michigan.  As Governor, he supported striking United Automobile Workers in a sit-down strike at the General Motors Flint plant and successfully mediated an agreement between the UAW and GM that resulted in the UAW being recognized as the workers’ bargaining agent under the new National Labor Relations Act.  When Murphy was defeated for reelection as Governor, Roosevelt appointed him Attorney General of the United States.  As Attorney General, he established a Civil Liberties Unit in the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice to centralize enforcement of the Bill of Rights and civil rights statutes.

Murphy served a year as Attorney General before Roosevelt nominated him for a seat on the Court.  As a Justice, Murphy took a broad view of individual liberties and a narrow view of government power under the Bill of Rights.

King Victor Hostick (1914–1993), to whom Murphy inscribed and signed this photo, was a Lincoln scholar and a dealer in historical manuscripts.  He served as the director of the Illinois State Historical Society and the Abraham Lincoln Association.

This paneled photo is nice.  Murphy has inscribed and signed it in black fountain pen.  There is some silvering to the image in the dark background areas and tiny brushing to the tail of the “y” in Murphy’s last name, likely from where the pen hit the edge of the embossed panel.  There are small bends in the corners and in the top left margin, and the top edge is slightly rippled from exposure to moisture.  In addition to the pencil notes on the back, there is a pencil note “murphy” at the right upper edge.  Overall the photo is in fine to very fine condition.


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